Teachers are 'too scared' to discuss Empire, director says

Anita Singh
Director Gurinder Chadha - PA

Children are no longer taught about Empire because well-meaning educationalists are "frightened" of discussing the subject, Gurinder Chadha has suggested.

The British-Indian director of Bend It Like Beckham was talking in the run-up to the launch of her new ITV series.

Beecham House is set in 18th century India and follows the exploits of a former East India Company officer.

Chadha's last project, Viceroy's House, explored Partition and the end of Empire through the eyes of Lord and Lady Mountbatten. But she worries that the history is unknown to schoolchildren today.

"Most children in British schools aren't even told now that there was an Empire, that the British ruled India," she told Radio Times. "Of course, it's wrong." Asked if that was because educationalists wanted to avoid giving offence in multicultural classrooms, Chadha replied: "Yes, they're frightened of telling the truth."

Beecham House provides a benevolent view of the men of the East India Company, with the French portrayed as the villains of the era as they vied for control of the country's trade.

Chadha, who wrote and directed the drama, said: "History is how you interpret it. I'm sure there will be historians who will take issue, because what I've made is a drama, not a documentary. If I wanted to be 100 per cent accurate, I'd make a factual series for the History channel."

She added: "It's an adventure and a love story. But - hopefully - if you're open to it, a story about today. Because John is an immigrant, looking for a better life. And it's about nationhood, so it has obvious connections with now.

"The most exciting thing is simply having Indians in period costumes on prime time British TV - where their lives and loves are as important as their white counterparts. That's a flipping radical thing. That's something I'd never have imagined seeing when I was watching The Jewel in the Crown."

In an effort to turn her leading actors into screen heart-throbs, Chadha encouraged Tom Bateman and Leo Suter (who play brothers John and Daniel Beecham) to go shirtless. "So we're competing with Poldark!" she said, adding that she had reframed one shot after "realising, when looking down the lens, how ripped one of the actors' bodies was when he took his shirt off".

The series, much of it shot in Rajasthan, has been dubbed "the Delhi Downton" because it looks at the lives of characters above and below stairs.

Chadha has previously said that Britain's involvement in India was more complex than some critics of the Empire would have us believe.

Speaking at the series launch, she said: "As a director, I always want you to like my characters. Even if they're really mean and horrible. I always have to find something about them that I understand and respect.

"Every single person in that East India Company was doing the right thing as far as they were concerned."